Every year for the last 6 or so years at Vinitaly, Sicily has been front-and-center in the advance of Italian wine. Wineries such as Planeta and Donnafugata have raised the bar of expectations, while other lesser known wineries, such as Arancio and Colosi have increased interest in easier to access styles of wine. More established wineries such as Tasca D’Almerita and Rapitala are re-inventing themselves. Sicily is like Mt. Etna, always in a state of change, often explosive in some of those changes. And Nero d’Avola is front-and-center, leading the charge, as I see it, on the wine trail in Italy.

One winery that I will be following this year is KYOS, from the . Their Nero d’Avola that I have tried is a delicious red that has everything in check. The fruit is fresh but not overbearing and the alcohol is a sane 12.5%. A really well balanced wine that will sell, in most markets for around $10.
Another winery of interest is Rapitala. Owned by Hugues Bernard, Count of Gatinais, France, and his wife Gigi Guarrasi, a descendant of a prominent Palermo family, they really attach themselves to the Arab and Norman roots planted in Sicily. Rapitala, from the Arabic, Rabidh-Allah, meaning river of Allah. The Hugonis, a blend of Cabernet and Nero d’Avola has a restrained, holding back side to it, revealing itself layer by layer, like a slow dance. Very European.
Towards Agrigento we visited Morgante. From the Valley of the Temples, the crow flies 15 miles inland, and to elevations of 1500 feet, where we find a large farm, planted simply to Nero d’Avola. Morgante is a family with a single purpose, much like someone who would live in Burgundy and only plant Pinot Noir, or Piemonte, and only plant Nebbiolo. This is the laboratory for Nero d’Avola.
They make two wines, the Nero d’Avola and the Riserva, Don Antonio. I’m always pleased to see the regular Nero d’Avola on a wine list. Maybe some wine buyer thinks they should throw a Sicilian wine on the list, and I have seen some awful representatives in that category, the token Sicilian on the wine list. But if you see the Morgante Nero d’Avola, take a chance. It is a faithful passport to the land of the temples, to the southern soil and the hillsides trodden by so many cultures.
Don Antonio is like visiting my great grandfather. It’s a liquid representation of my father’s culture, our collective DNA recast in 25 ounces of viti-culture. Don Antonio is a very interesting wine, it doesn’t scream out at you. Riccardo Cotarella doesn’t make the wine as much as he senses it. As he now consults, he isn’t as hands on these days. But that’s OK with old Don Antonio, as the wine pretty well much makes itself.

This wine is the Sergio Leone of the Nero D’Avola’s. Great with a Texas raised, Chicago aged, bone-in Cowboy Ribeye, grilled over mesquite hard wood charcoal with a little salt, pepper and a touch of the Virgin olive oil. Sicilians know how to live, in the old world or the new
For our last taste we stepped on the autostrada and went over to Firriato,to taste their Nero d’Avola. This is an interesting winery with a very strong-willed, charismatic woman at the helm. I’m finding this more in the wines of Sicily, strong women. Well, it makes sense, my grandmother sure was, and I’m glad for it. She had opinions and convictions and character. And things like that make for good components in a wine, especially when one is looking for the reflection of the land, some depth and above all character, in wine and in people.
Her Nero d’Avola, Chiaramonte, was rich and not too New World, alcohol was in check and wine was in balance. Alongside Frappato, which is the grape of the important Cerasuolo di Vittoria, Nero d’Avola is a historic grape and one of interest to those who look to the region for their indigenous expression.
Are you ready to open up your horizons when it comes to Sicilian wines? Look first to Nero d’Avola, for it is Sicily.

~ Alfonso Cevola writes On the Wine Trail in Italy, which keeps him in good standing with his Sicilian parole officer.

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